Of the most important elections in 2015, it’s a safe bet to argue that three of them took place in Greece: the January parliamentary elections, one insane roller-coaster of a referendum in July and another snap parliamentary vote again in September.
So what is the world to do in 2016, when no one expects Greeks to return to the polls? (Though, Athens being Athens, it’s impossible to rule the possibility out.)
Fear not. The new year will bring with it a fresh schedule of exciting elections on all seven continents, including in the United States, which after a marathon pair of primary campaigns, will finally choose the country’s 45th president in November 2016.
But following American politics only begins to scratch the surface.
At least two world leaders in 2016 will put ballot questions to voters that could make or break their careers (and legacies).
New governments could emerge from elections in Taiwan, the Philippines, Morocco, Georgia, Peru, Jamaica, Ghana, Zambia and Australia.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy will either advance or flame out in his bid for a French political comeback in 2016.
Semi-autocratic leaders in Russia, Uganda, Congo and Vietnam will seek endorsements from their voters while hoping that the veneer of elections doesn’t unleash popular protest.
An opaque series of votes in Iran could determine the country’s future Supreme Leader.
A mayoral election in London (and regional elections outside England) could reshuffle British politics with an even more important vote on the horizon in 2017.
One very special election could change the international agenda of world peace and global security altogether.
Nearly five years ago, when Haitians elected political newcomer Michel Martelly, a well-known compas singer also known to Haitians as ‘Sweet Micky,’ there was every expectation that a new government, backed by massive amounts of international aid and a renewed commitment to transcend the devastating January 2010 earthquake’s destruction, might finally end Haiti’s cycle of poverty, corruption and dependence.
Instead, nearing the sixth anniversary of that earthquake, tens of thousands of Haitians are still displaced after Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, was leveled. A standoff with Haiti’s congress ultimately delayed 2012 legislative elections for years, forcing Martelly to spend the last year in office governing without a valid legislature in a state of quasi-permanent constitutional crisis.
Elections on August 9 and October 25 were supposed to fix that by electing both houses of the Parlement Haïtien (Haitian Parliament) and the October election was set to select Martelly’s successor. The October voting initially seemed to go well, and the first reports gave no signs of massive fraud or political violence, both of which have marred elections in recent years.
But as it became clear that the December 27 runoff would feature Martelly’s preferred candidate, Jovenel Moïse, and 2010 contender Jude Célestin, a former minister with close ties to Martelly’s predecessor, René Préval, many of the remaining candidates cried fraud. With protests on the rise, the Haitian government announced last week that it was postponing the December 27 runoff indefinitely pending the report of a five-person electoral commission, hastily appointed by Haitian prime minister Evans Paul last week.
Jean-Charles Moïse, running as something of a newcomer and a fierce critic of the Martelly administration, placed third, and he and Célestin have railed against the government’s allegedly fraud, along with many of the other candidates (54 in total) who failed to make the runoff. Even the initially sanguine reports of international observers gave way to gloomier verdicts about the October vote’s integrity:
Not only were voting procedures inconsistently applied at poorly designed polling stations, the report notes, but the widespread use of observer and political party accreditation led to people voting multiple times and potentially accounts for as much as 60 percent of the 1.5 million votes cast.
Though the disparate groups who hold power today in Tbilisi rode to power three years ago as the ‘Georgian Dream’ coalition, life for them is quickly devolving into something more like a nightmare.
With fresh elections due in October 2016, prime minister Irakli Garibashvili resigned abruptly on December 23 after just over two years in office (and at the ripe old age of 33). The political crisis has left Georgia, including both the government’s supporters and detractors, stunned. Giorgi Kvirikashvili, foreign minister only since September 2015 and, formerly, the minister of economy and sustainable development, became Georgia’s new prime minister-designate on Christmas Day. Like Garibashvili, he’s a political unknown with longtime ties to Ivanishvili, formerly the head of the Ivanishvili-owned Cartu Bank.
Before ascending to power, Garibashvili was a longtime employee of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire who financed the Georgian Dream (ქართული ოცნება) coalition, united mostly by its opposition to the policies and anti-Russian orientation of Georgia’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili. Garibashvili rose quickly in the new order after the Georgian Dream coalition won the 2012 parliamentary elections. While Ivanishvili himself held the premiership between October 2012 and November 2013, it was Garibashvili, by then a trusted Ivanishvili adviser, who took the pivotal role of minister for internal affairs. In that position, barely out of his twenties, Garibashvili was tasked with ‘reforming’ the Georgian police forces, though he spent more time throwing several former Saakashvili era officials in prison.
When Ivanishvili decided to step aside from frontline politics, no one believed that he was necessarily ceding control of Georgia’s new government, and Garibashvili never truly shook the impression that he was really just a puppet serving at Ivanishvili’s pleasure. That impression will be even harder to shake now, with tongues wagging that it was Ivanishvili who ordered Garibashvili’s resignation.
It isn’t an outrageous leap to believe that Ivanishvili is still calling the shots in Georgia’s government, nor is it unrealistic that he is eager to shake up Georgian politics, above all to protect his return on investment as fresh elections beckon.
Garibashvili never had much of a political power base independent of Ivanishvili. Moreover, he often clashed with Giorgi Margvelashvili, Gerogia’s president, who easily won the October 2013 presidential election (to what is now a mostly ceremonial office, thanks to reforms in the last year of the Saakashvili era that transferred power from the presidency to the parliament). Margvelashvili, formerly a little-known academic and former education and science minister, owes his position, like Garibashvili, mostly to Ivanishvili and his bankroll, though he is nominally an independent and he has demonstrated his willingness to disagree with Ivanishvili publicly from time to time.
It’s no surprise to anyone that the Garibashvili-led government has struggled for the past two years. The economic expansion of the Saakashvili years, with its technocratic zeal for improving infrastructure and attracting foreign development, are now a long-faded memory. Inflation is up, GDP growth is stagnant by the standard recent trends (now expected to be less than 3% and far below the 5% prediction earlier this year) and Georgia’s currency, the lari, is down — by nearly 40%, compared to the US dollar in the last 15 months. Garibashvili’s government has lurched between the rhetoric of reform and a far more unfocused reality, given the varied perspectives among the nationalists, socialists and liberals that comprise the many parties that comprise the Georgian Dream coalition.
Please click here for the 2013 calendar of world elections.
Please click here for the 2014 calendar of world elections.
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January 4: Uzbekistan — parliamentary (2nd round)
January 8: Sri Lanka — presidential
January 11: Croatia — presidential (runoff)
January 20: Zambia — presidential
January 25: Greece — parliamentary
January 25: Comoros — parliamentary (1st round)
January 31: Queensland (Australia) — state legislative
February 7: Delhi Capital Territory — legislative assembly
February 7: Slovakia — referendum on same-sex marriage February 14: Nigeria — presidential and parliamentary
[postponed to March 28] February 15: Hamburg (Germany) — state parliamentary February 16: Saint Kitts and Nevis — parliamentary
February 22: Comoros — parliamentary (2nd round) February 28: Nigeria — gubernatorial and state assembly February 28: Tajikistan — parliamentary February 28: Lesotho — parliamentary February 28: Yemen — presidential and parliamentary February: Iran — Assembly of Experts election
March 1: Estonia — parliamentary
March 1: Andorra — parliamentary
March 3: Micronesia — parliamentary
March 3: Pakistan — senatorial (indirect)
March 17: Israel — parliamentary
March 19: Tuvalu — parliamentary March 22: Sweden — parliamentary
March 22: Gagauzia (Moldova) — gubernatorial (first round)
March 22: Andalusia (Spain) — regional parliamentary March 22-23: Egypt — parliamentary (first phase)
March 28: New South Wales (Australia) — state legislative
March 28: Nigeria — presidential and parliamentary
March 29: Uzbekistan — presidential
March 29: Madeira (Portugal) — regional
March 29: Bolivia — gubernatorial
April 5: Gagauzia (Moldova) — gubernatorial (second round)
April 11: Nigeria — gubernatorial and state assembly
April 12: Japan — gubernatorial (several states)
April 13-15: Sudan — presidential and parliamentary
April 19: Finland — parliamentary
April 19: Northern Cyprus — presidential
April 25: Togo — presidential
April 25: Anguilla — parliamentary
April 26: Kazakhstan — presidential
April 26: Benin — parliamentary April 26-27: Egypt — parliamentary (second phase)
April: Micronesia — presidential (indirect)
May 3: Nagorno-Karabakh — parliamentary
May 5: Alberta (Canada) — parliamentary
May 7: United Kingdom — parliamentary
May 7: Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership election
May 10: Bremen (Germany) — state parliamentary
May 10: Poland — presidential
May 11: Guyana — parliamentary
May 13-15: Parti Québécois leadership election
May 22: Ireland — referendum on same-sex marriage
May 24: Ethiopia — parliamentary and regional
May 24: Poland — presidential (runoff)
May 24: Spain — municipal
May 24: Spain — 13 regional parliamentary
May 25: Suriname — parliamentary
May 26: Netherlands — senatorial May 26: Burundi — parliamentary
May 31 – June 1: Campania, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, Umbria and Veneto (Italy) — regional
June 7: Mexico — parliamentary (midterms) and gubernatorial
June 7: Turkey — parliamentary
June 14: Santa Fe (Argentina) — gubernatorial
June 18: Denmark — parliamentary
June 21: Mendoza (Argentina) — gubernatorial June 26: Burundi — presidential (1st round) June 26: Somaliland — presidential and parliamentary elections June 29: Burundi — parliamentary
July 9: South Sudan — presidential and parliamentary
July 5: Buenos Aires (Argentina) — gubernatorial (1st round)
July 5: Greece — referendum July 15: Burundi — presidential (1st round)
July 16: United Kingdom — Liberal Democrats
leadership election ends
July 19: Buenos Aires (Argentina) — gubernatorial (runoff)
July 21: Burundi — presidential [rescheduled]
August 9: Argentina — presidential primaries
August 9: Haiti — parliamentary
August 14: United Kingdom — Labour Party leadership election voting begins
August 17: Sri Lanka — parliamentary August: Cordoba (Argentina) — gubernatorial
September 1: Faroe Islands (Denmark) — parliamentary
September 6: Guatemala — presidential and parliamentary
September 7: Trinidad and Tobago — parliamentary
September 11: Singapore — parliamentary
September 12: United Kingdom — Labour Party leadership election results announced
September 13: Tatarstan (Russia) — presidential
September 20: Liberal Democratic Party (Japan) — leadership election
September 20: Greece — parliamentary
September 27: Catalunya (Spain) — parliamentary
September 27: Upper Austria — state parliamentary
October 3: United Arab Emirates — Federal National Council
October 4: Portugal — parliamentary
October 4: Kyrgyzstan — parliamentary
October 11: Guinea — presidential October 11: Burkina Faso — presidential and parliamentary
October 11: Belarus — presidential
October 11: Vienna (Austria) — state parliamentary
October 12: Bihar (India) — parliamentary (1st of five rounds)
October 16: Bihar (India) — parliamentary (2nd of five rounds)
October 18: Switzerland — national council and senatorial
(1st round) October 18: Central African Republic — presidential and parliamentary (1st round)
October 17-19: Egypt — parliamentary (first round)
October 19: Canada — parliamentary
October 25: Argentina — parliamentary and presidential (1st round)
October 25: Poland — parliamentary
October 25: Colombia — gubernatorial
October 25: Bogotá (Colombia) — mayoral
October 25: Guatemala — presidential (runoff)
October 25: Tanzania — presidential and parliamentary
October 25: Zanzibar (Tanzania) — presidential and parliamentary
October 25: Haiti — presidential
October 25: Oman — parliamentary
October 25: Côte d’Ivoire — presidential
October 25: Ukraine (including Kyev) — municipal
October 26-28: Egypt — parliamentary (second round)
October 28: Bihar (India) — parliamentary (3rd of five rounds)
November 1: Turkey — parliamentary
November 1: Bihar (India) — parliamentary (4th of five rounds)
November 1: Azerbaijan — parliamentary
November 4: Belize — parliamentary
November 5: Bihar (India) — parliamentary (5th of five rounds)
November 8: Bihar (India) — parliamentary results counted
November 8: Myanmar/Burma — parliamentary
November 8: Croatia — parliamentary
November 16: Marshall Islands — parliamentary November 22: Central African Republic — presidential and parliamentary (2nd round)
November 22: Argentina — presidential (runoff)
November 23: Northwest Territories (Canada) — regional assembly
November 26: Gibraltar (UK) — parliamentary
November 29: Switzerland — senatorial (runoff)
November 29: Burkina Faso — presidential and parliamentary
November 29: Transnistria (Moldova) — parliamentary and local
November 30: Newfoundland and Labrador (Canada) — provincial
December 3: Denmark — EU ‘opt-out’ status referendum
December 6: France — regional elections (first round)
December 6: Venezuela — parliamentary
December 9: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — parliamentary
December 9: Switzerland — presidential (indirect)
December 9: Indonesia — gubernatorial and municipal
December 12: Saudi Arabia — municipal
December 13: France — regional elections (second round)
December 20: Spain — parliamentary
December 20: Slovakia — same-sex marriage referendum December 27: Haiti — presidential runoff
December 30: Central African Republic — presidential and parliamentary
December 30: Kiribati — parliamentary (first round)
As predicted, Spain’s messy general election resulted in no clear winner, and none of its two largest parties could claim a majority in the lower house of Spain’s parliament.
What’s more, though two upstart parties upended the political status quo that’s existed for nearly 40 years in Spain, neither did so well that they can form a government — or even serve as a kingmaker for one of the two established parties.
While the conservative Partido Popular (PP, the People’s Party) emerged with the largest share of the vote, prime minister Mariano Rajoy has plenty of reason to despair. Much of the party’s support comes from older voters in the Spanish countryside, and the PP benefited from an electoral system that delivers slightly more seats to parties with support outside Spain’s urban centers. Nevertheless, he has lost his absolute majority, dropped 64 seats and, worst of all for Rajoy, there’s no clear or easy path to a governing majority. Though Spain’s economy has stabilized under the past four years of PP rule, unemployment remains staggeringly high (21.2%). The party’s leader since 2004, Rajoy might ultimately be pushed aside during coalition talks for a younger or more charismatic leader, like deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.
Meanwhile, the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) suffered its worst defeat since the transition to democracy in the late 1970s. Its new leader, Pedro Sánchez, a moderate economist, simply could not convince voters to look beyond long-simmering corruption scandals (which, by the way, also plague Rajoy’s party) and the record of the prior PSOE government, which took the first steps toward the path of austerity measures in the aftermath of the 2009-10 eurozone debt crisis.
Indeed, the PSOE just barely outpolled Podemos, an anti-austerity alternative that burst onto the Spanish political scene in 2014, embracing the anti-establishment protests of the ‘indignados’ movement. Despite leading polls earlier this year, Podemos crashed as fears grew that it would cause the kind of economic pandemonium that plagued Greece after the election of the far-left SYRIZA this year. Its leading spokesperson, Pablo Iglesias, began to moderate his movement’s rhetoric, and rallied to a strong third-place finish.
The center-right liberal Ciudadanos (‘C’s,’ Citizens), a federalist, economically liberal party founded in Catalonia in 2007, made the leap from regional politics to national politics, but its leader Albert Rivera must be disappointed that it failed to steal more voters from Rajoy.
With another handful of seats going to various pro-independence Catalan parties, as well as Basque and Galician regional parties, the net result is that no one has enough seats in the 350-member Congreso de los Diputados (Congress of Deputies), the lower house of Spain’s legislature, the Cortes Generales (General Courts).
Notably, Rajoy maintained the PP’s majority, however reduced, in the far less powerful upper house, the Senado (Senate), which can be overruled on most matters (i.e., not ‘organic laws’ that deal with constitutional matters, civil rights and federalism) by majority vote of the Chamber of Deputies.Voters elected 208 senators on Sunday as well (an additional 58 senators are appointed by regional assemblies).
Two sets of statistics are worth considering.
First, the traditional major parties (the PP and PSOE) won just 50.7% of the vote in aggregate, compared to 83.8% in the 2008 election and 73.4% in the 2011 election. Obviously, that means Spain is entering a new era where coalition politics are more important. That’s not entirely unprecedented — when José María Aznar won 156 seats after the 1996 elections, he had to work with Catalan, Basque and Canarian nationalists to form a stable government. But the success of Podemos and Ciudadanos has transformed Spain’s politics from a two-party matter to a multiparty affair.
Secondly, among the four major parties to emerge from the 2015 election, it’s staggering just how evenly divided the Spanish left and right are. Together, the PP and Ciudadanos won 42.65% of the vote and the PSOE and Podemos won 42.67%. Spain’s electorate, in the broadest sense, delivered neither a mandate to a sharp left turn or a sharp right turn.
What Spain now faces is a difficult choice of among three different paths, all of which carry their own risks and challenges. Spain’s new young king, Felipe VI, will also take a more hands-on role in the coalition formation process than his father, Juan Carlos I, ever did. The good news for Spain is that the three options each mirror paths taken by three of its fellow European Union member-states in the last three years:
Germany 2013: a ‘grand coalition’ between the two established parties;
Portugal 2015: a fragile coalition government that brings together all of the parties and movements of the left; and
Greece 2012: deadlocked coalition talks lead to fresh elections.
To the extent that Spain is entering a new coalition-based era of its parliamentary politics, a reshaped Spanish political landscape might transcend 20th century fractures and the transition to democracy that’s dominated Spanish political life for a half-century.
Over 60% of the Irish electorate endorsed same-sex marriage in Ireland six months ago, giving European LGBT activists a cause to celebrate.
A country with a conservative and highly Catholic pedigree showed that it could also be progressive, and the overwhelming victory was a triumph that gave the fight for marriage equality in the European Union a boost of momentum.
Back in June, however, despite the euphoria, I argued that it’s not necessarily a great precedent to put fundamental human and civil rights matters up to a vote, especially when it comes to matters where a majority of voters can ‘gang up’ against an unpopular minority. Instead, it’s far better to leave fundamental matters that deal with core rights to courts instead. Of course, it’s true that Ireland’s governing framework requires a popular referendum on all constitutional matters (which explains why Ireland essentially votes on every EU treaty change).
Still, every victory at the ballot box for marriage equality, and the embrace of the LGBT community of such popular victories, enhances the credibility of all such referenda, giving far more credibility to even those votes where same-sex marriage fails.
Invariably, in eastern Europe, where the outlook for LGBT rights remain far less sanguine, the Slovenian electorate has now delivered a strong verdict against marriage quality, overturning a legislative definition of marriage by a margin of 63.53% to 36.47%.
Slovenia’s vote has its genesis in legislation passed by its national assembly in March, defining marriage as a union of two people, not specifically between a man and a woman. Opponents of the law forced a referendum, overriding an attempt by legislators to block a vote and prompting a ruling from Slovenia’s constitutional court that essentially stripped the national assembly of the power to declare a referendum unconstitutional.
Though there’s a delightful array of global elections coming in 2016, the most important will most certainly not be New Zealand’s final referendum on changing its flag.
Nevertheless, it might well be the most fun.
For the past month, New Zealand’s voters have been asked to choose from among five options (narrowed down from a larger finalist field of 40 designs) in a postal-based referendum that began on November 20 and ended on December 11. Less than 50% of eligible voters took part in the voting.
The winner, by a very narrow margin, was a one of three designs to feature the silver fern, a symbol that, increasingly since the end of the 19th century, has become associated with New Zealand — on its coins and its coat of arms, on the logo of its national football team. The silver fern, cyathea dealbata, is a species endemic to New Zealand.
The ubiquity of the silver fern in three of the original four finalists drew so much criticism from anti-fern proponents that the flag panel actually added a fifth design, a stylized ‘red peak’ to the list of choices (though like the other two designs, it polled far behind in single digits). Continue reading And the most important election of 2016 will be…→
Five days before the Christmas holiday, Spanish voters will go to the polls to choose a new government in an election that’s being hailed as the country’s most important since 1982.
Indeed, voter turnout may well exceed the 80% levels not seen since 1982, when Spain had only just emerged from its Francoist dictatorship and was four years away from joining the European Economic Community, the predecessor to today’s European Union. Moreover, it will also be the first general election to take place under Felipe VI, whose father Juan Carlos I abdicated in June 2014 after guiding the country’s transition to democracy in the mid-1970s.
But what makes the December 20 election so unique is that economic crisis has shattered Spain’s stable two-party electoral tradition, leaving a four-way free-for-all that could force unwieldy coalitions or a minority government at a time when the country has only just started its economic recovery. Distrust in both major parties, moreover, has opened the way for a popular far-left movement at the national level and greater discord at the regional level, most notably in Catalonia, where support for the independence movement is growing. No matter who wins power in the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy, the next Spanish government will face difficult decisions about GDP growth, lingering unemployment, and federalism and possible constitutional change.
For decades, Spanish elections were essentially, at the national level, a fight between the conservative Partido Popular (PP, the People’s Party) and the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party). In the most recent 2011 election, the PP won 186 seats in the 350-member Congreso de los Diputados (Congress of Deputies), the Spanish parliament’s lower house, while the PSOE won 110 seats.
Both parties can point to massive successes over the past three decades. Under longtime PSOE prime minister Felipe González, Spain consolidated its liberal democracy and benefited greatly from closer economic and financial ties to Europe, while Barcelona’s emergence as the host of the 1992 Summer Olympics catapulted it into a world-class city. Under conservative prime minister José María Aznar, Spain joined the core of western European countries as a founding member of the eurozone in 2002 and developed widening security ties with the United States. When the PSOE returned to power in 2004 under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the government enacted same-sex marriage in 2005 and later negotiated a peaceful ceasefire with the paramilitary Basque nationalist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA).
The pain in Spain
But the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and subsequent eurozone crisis of 2010 knocked Spain off its pedestal.
Not unlike Florida, Nevada and parts of California in the United States, property values in Spain fell as rapidly as they once climbed, and an economy driven by construction and easy credit sputtered to near-depression levels of contraction. Despite running a more parsimonious fiscal policy in the 2000s than even Germany, Zapatero’s government soon found its expenses far exceeding revenues, and his government engaged in a series of tax increases and spending cuts.
The Spanish electorate ousted Zapatero in December 2011, ushering the People’s Party back to power under Mariano Rajoy, whose main goal was to prevent Spain from needing to seek an emergency bailout. Despite some scares over the Spanish banking system in 2012, Rajoy succeeded in keeping Spain bailout-free, but at the cost of ever greater spending cuts and tax hikes. The Rajoy government’s tough fiscal medicine, to some degree, has worked. Yields on Spanish 10-year debt have steadily fallen from a high of over 7.2% in July 2012 to less than 1.8% today. For a country without economic expansion since 2008, the Spanish economy returned to fragile growth in 2014, and it maintained growth throughout 2015 — notching 1% growth in the second quarter of this year and 0.8% in the third.
But voters are not enthusiastic about the prospects of reelecting Rajoy, a leader who never quite managed to win over Spanish hearts. Spain’s unemployment rate today is still 21.2%, a drop from the record-high 26.9% level recorded in early 2013. But that’s still a far higher jobless rate than anywhere else in the European Union (with the exception of Greece).
In the 2008 election, before the bottom fell out of the Spanish economy, the two major parties together won 83.8% of the vote. By 2011, that percentage fell to 73.4%. If polls are correct, that percentage could fall below 50% on Sunday, as both the PP and the PSOE struggle against the surging popularity of the anti-austerity Podemos (‘We can’) on the left and the liberal, federalist Ciudadanos (C’s, Citizens) on the right.
If the election were held today, the PP would win around 110 seats, the PSOE around 90, and Podemos and Ciudadanos would each win around 60, leaving none of them with a clear majority. The uncertainty of the four-way race has both energized the electorate (in a manner reminiscent to those first early elections in the post-dictatorship era) and enhanced the chances of post-election uncertainty that both Greece and Portugal have endured this year. Continue reading Spain readies for historic, four-way election on December 20→
With both the mainstream left and right teaming up to defeat the far-right Front national‘s two most outspoken leaders in Sunday’s second (and final) round of regional elections, party president Marine Le Pen, in France’s far northern region, and her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, in France’s southeast, it was never likely that anyone from the Le Pen family tree would have won control of any of France’s regional councils.
Indeed, after the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) universally withdrew from the two (of six) regions where the Front national (FN, National Front) led after the December 6 first-round results, it made a second-round victory of either Le Pen very unlikely.
Socialist unity fell short in three northeastern regions, where the Front national came far closer to winning:
In Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, the Socialists maintained their hold on the region, but only narrowly — with 34.7% to 32.9% for the center-right Républicains (Republicans) to 32.4% for the Front national.
In Centre-Val de Loire, again, the Socialists won 35.4% to 34.6% for the Republicans and 30.0% for the Front national.
But it was Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine where the Front national‘s chances of picking up a region were deemed strongest. The new region cobbles together three very different smaller regions, much to the disdain of the wealthier Alsatians, lumped into a ‘super region’ with the poorer, industrial Lorraine. (And indeed, the Front national did most poorly within the districts of the former region of Alsace, picking up larger margins in Lorraine).
Florian Philippot, one of the FN’s brightest rising stars, won the first round with 36.1% to the center-right’s 25.8%. In the second round, however, Philippot still won just 36.1% while the center-right consolidated its support (and a wide swath of the center-left and those in the electorate who didn’t bother to vote in the first round) to a whopping 48.4%, easily taking the region.
The surge in turnout among moderate voters in opposition to the Front national‘s first-round success stopped Philippot — as it did the party’s other candidates on Sunday. Still, without that shift, and a generous shift of left-wing voters to the Républicains, Philippot today might be the only Front national figure leading one of France’s 13 councils.
In contrast to the party’s self-cultivated status as an outside force with disdain for the French political elite, the 34-year-old Philippot is a graduate of the École nationale d’administration, as elite an institution as exists in France today. Since July 2012, he has been the Front national’s vice president, in charge of strategy and communication. But he’s really been the chief strategist to Marine Le Pen as she’s worked for the detoxification — or dédiabolisation — of her party, so much so that one of Le Pen’s former foreign policy advisers, Aymeric Chauprade, an MEP, left the party arguing that Philippot had created a ‘Stalinist’ environment among the party’s top guard.
In perhaps the cruelest indignity of them all, businessman and Republican presidential contender Donald Trump slammed as ‘dopey’ Al-Waleed Bin Talal, an influential Saudi prince who runs many of the kingdom’s business and investment interests, last week on Twitter.
But for one weekend, at least, Saudi Arabia was in the news with fluffy headlines about historic municipal elections that allowed women, for the first time in Saudi history, to vote and to run for office, complete with photos (like the one above) that show a purportedly modernizing country where women are now enjoying the right to vote amid a loosening of other gender-based restrictions.
Don’t buy the hype.
Women only sparingly cast ballots in an election for only two-thirds of the members of essentially powerless municipal councils in a country that remains one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world, where an absolute monarchy, in tandem with Wahhabi clerics, have restricted the rights of women to a degree virtually unknown across the globe in the 21st century. Continue reading Why Saudi Arabia’s ‘landmark’ council elections are a joke→
I write Friday for The National Interest a follow-up post on Venezuela’s legislative elections.
With the unexpected results, which not only gave the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, Democratic Unity Roundtable) a victory, but a two-thirds supermajority in Venezuela’s National Assembly, a critical blow to the ruling chavista government of Nicolás Maduro.
I make the case that the MUD must prioritize a recall referendum that could remove Maduro from office early in 2016:
In a “normal” democracy, it would not be atypical for a divided government to emerge, in the same way that Republicans today control the legislative branch and Democrats control the executive branch in the United States. Gridlock might come to dominate Venezuelan governance, it’s true. But Maduro, who lacks a powerful presidential veto, would be forced to accept the MUD coalition’s policy prescriptions to get the economy back on track, however painful the compromises for both sides.
Yet neither Maduro nor the chavista high guard has shown the slightest bit of respect for the democratic process. Though Chávez came to power — and stayed in power — on the strength of a bona fide popular and democratic mandate, his government and Maduro’s government have gone out of their way to make a mockery of democratic norms. They have diverted government funds, including the country’s dwindling oil revenues, to nakedly political purposes for so long that it’s difficult to know where chavismo ends and Venezuela’s government begins. They’ve imprisoned opposition leaders like Leopoldo López and former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma without due process on charges that even López’s prosecutor (speaking safely from exile in Miami) admits were politically motivated. Chavistas have dominated the Venezuelan media so thoroughly that it’s hard to speak of any real press freedom; in 2015, it had the worst record in South America, according to Reporters Without Borders. The outgoing head of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, has bullied and harassed the opposition at every step, is reported to have ties to drug traffickers and other criminal elements, and shows no sign of accepting the docile role of loyal opposition leader. The list goes on and on (and Rory Carroll’s excellent 2013 book, Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, exhaustively catalogs the abuses, both petty and serious). Though there was once a democratic basis for chavismo’s legitimacy, its unique record since 1998 demonstrates that it simply cannot be trusted to execute the new National Assembly’s laws in good faith. In crisis mode, with the worst performing economy in the world, Venezuela simply cannot wait until the scheduled 2018 presidential election to turn the page on chavismo.
Though there is some risk of ‘overreach’ in calling a recall referendum, and though a snap presidential election could create real tensions within the MUD coalition, I also argue that the far greater risk is failing to learn the lessons of chavismo and the risk of a divided government wholly unable to meet the critical task of rebuilding Venezuela’s economy in the next three years.
Though I wasn’t able to join The Atlantic‘s conference this week on the future of the LGBT civil rights fight, I took to Twitter earlier today to make that case that the future of the LGBT rights fights is largely international in character.
In France’s previous two regional elections, in 2004 and 2010, the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) easily won nearly all of the country’s 22 regions.
That was typical for France’s regional elections, which typically tilt against the party in power nationally, and the Socialists were very much out of power in both years. In the most recent March 2010 elections, the Socialists (together with its allies) won fully 21 of the 22 regions in metropolitan France. Alsace, on France’s border with Germany, supporting then-president Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right instead.
What a difference five years can make.
Today, the Socialists are in power, though president François Hollande and prime minister Manuel Valls have some of the lowest approval ratings in the history of France’s Fifth Republic. Despite a solidarity bump in support following last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, that did not carry over into support for the Socialists in Sunday’s regional elections. Instead, the far-right, anti-immigration Front national (FN, National Front) of Marine Le Pen emerged with the largest share of the vote, leading in six of France’s 13 metropolitan regions after the first round on December 6.
When minor parties are eliminated for the second round on December 13, however, it’s entirely possible that the Socialists and Sarkozy’s rechristened Gaullist center-right Les Républicains will split so much of the vote that the Front national wins control of one or more regions in the country. The far-right’s success is historically significant, because it’s by far the most support that either Le Pen (or her father, the former Front leader) has won in a national French election.
Marine Le Pen has gradually tried to detoxify her party’s anti-Semitic roots (in part by banishing Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party’s founder and her own father from the party earlier this year). With doubts about the European Union’s economic and security leadership and a French populace that’s lived through two jihadist attacks since January, Le Pen’s ‘fortress France’ approach to politics has brought it into the French political mainstream. In additional to the Front‘s traditional supporters, Marine Le Pen has made some inroads with young voters, who are suffering from massive unemployment as a group, and from disillusioned leftists in France’s industrial northeast, who are angry with Hollande’s failure to improve the French economy.
While last Sunday marked a very impressive performance for France’s far right, it’s hardly a sign that Le Pen’s Front is necessarily in position to win the 2017 presidential election — or even that the Front is now a permanent third force in French politics. For at least three reasons, it’s worth taking a deep breath before drawing any broader conclusions from the result of the first-round results. The Front may lead in six regions for now, but it certainly will not wind up controlling six regional councils, and there’s a chance that it may fail to win power in even a single region after next Sunday’s second-round voting. Continue reading Why French regional elections don’t really matter→
With British prime minister David Cameron’s victory in the House of Commons last week, fully four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus NATO member Turkey and several regional allies, will now be engaged in the fight against ISIS (ISIL/Islamic State/Daesh) in eastern Syria. Following last week’s fatal shooting in San Bernardino, California, by two jihadist sympathizers, US president Barack Obama reassured the United States in a rare Sunday night prime-time address that his administration will continue its intensified airstrikes against ISIS in eastern Syria, increasingly targeting the oil tankers controlled by ISIS that fund its jihadist mission.
Cameron’s team, including foreign minister Philip Hammond, argued that a force of 70,000 ‘moderate’ Syrian forces would be willing and ready to take on the ISIS threat in the event of a coordinated allied campaign to deploy sustained airstrikes against ISIS, both reducing the terrorist threat to Europeans at home and establishing the conditions for peace abroad (and the Obama administration has more or less echoed this sentiment). That seems optimistic, however, given that ‘radical’ rebels, like ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra quickly overpowered ‘moderate’ rebels like the Free Syrian Army throughout 2012 and 2013.
In reality, there’s no bright line among anti-Assad Sunnis in Syria. Although Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is Alawite, 75% of Syria’s pre-war population was Sunni, which means there’s a lot of room for variation. Nevertheless, after more than a year of U.S. airstrikes, moderate Syrians (whether 70,000 or 7,000) and Kurdish peshmerga forces have not effectively dislodged ISIS, particularly outside traditionally Kurdish areas of Iraq and Syria.
Though U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is still boosting peace talks in Vienna in early 2016, neither the Assad government nor the anti-Assad rebels have indicated they will join those talks. What’s more, it’s not even clear who would ‘represent’ the anti-Assad rebels, who are fighting as much against each other as they are against Assad.
Even as countries from four continents are running air campaigns in Syria, they are acting in far from a coordinated manner. Tensions are already rising after Turkey downed a Russian military jet late last month, despite repeated warnings that the jet was infringing Russian airspace. Imagine how tense the situation could become if a Russian jet attacks an American one in the increasingly crowded Syrian skies. None of the actors, including Russia or the United States, has any clear strategic plan for an endgame in Syria. Russia still can’t articulate a credible scenario where Assad rules a united postwar Syria, and the United States still can’t articulate a credible scenario where Sunni and Shiite factions can work together to govern Syria — or even Iraq, for that matter.
The descent of the world’s major powers upon Syria was accelerating even before jihadist terrorists left 130 innocent civilians dead in Paris, and the manner in which Syria has now become a proxy war for so many other regional and global actors is starting to resemble the domino trail of alliances and diplomatic errors that began World War I. It’s irresponsible to argue that the world is plunging into World War III, but the escalations in Syria reflects the same kind of destructive slippery slope that began with the assassination of the heir of a fading empire by a nationalist in what was then a provincial backwater. Continue reading ‘Coalition of the frenemies’ is bombing Syria for all the wrong reasons→
In a set of free and fair elections, it would not be difficult to predict that Venezuela’s long-suffering opposition would win a wide majority in December 6’s legislative elections; for many Venezuelans, despite marked disadvantages, the question is not whether the opposition will win, but by how much.
That doesn’t mean the anti-chavista coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, Democratic Unity Roundtable) is anywhere near taking real power in Venezuela. No matter what happens, on December 7, Venezuelans will still wake up to president Nicolás Maduro, the oft-ridiculed successor to the late Hugo Chávez. Maduro only narrowly won the presidency in April 2013, following Chávez’s death, and Venezuela’s economy, already in dire trouble two years ago, has failed dramatically ever since.
What’s more, short of a massive supermajority, Venezuela will be gridlocked for the next three years when the next presidential election will held, at a time when its economy has reached crisis-level proportions of failure.
Dependence on oil revenues meant that even before global oil prices plummeted, Venezuelans were facing shortages of basic products, from food to medical supplies to toilet paper, and inevitable scenes of government-mandated rationing. Massive inflation, in tandem with an unofficially depreciating currency, has inflicted even greater economic pain for a country dependent on foreign imports, at least for those without access to US dollars. The economy is expected to contract by as much as 10% in a single year, making Venezuela’s the worst-performing in the world in 2015. Earlier this spring, conditions were so bad that chavista supporters took to throwing mangoes at Maduro at political events in desperate search of basic necessities. Maduro, meanwhile, has campaigned hard on Chávez’s memory and fear tactics that the opposition will reverse the government’s many social welfare programs.
Voters will be choosing all 167 members of the Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly), where the chavistas currently hold 99 seats, while the opposition coalition holds just 64. Yet few observers believe that the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, United Socialist Party of Venezuela), the chavista party that for 16 years has governed the country in a way that’s blurred the line between political and governance activity, can win a majority in the elections. Datanálisis, one of Venezuela’s most respected polls, pitted the opposition coalition’s support at over 63%, with just 28% support for the chavistas in an October poll. Over at Caracas Chronicles, Francisco Toro argues that, for the first time in years, the December 6 elections represent the re-introduction of ‘politics’ to Venezuelan life.
But for a country where chavismo has now become so entrenched in its government and commerce, no one knows for sure exactly what the MUD’s margin of victory might be and how many seats it will ultimately procure. Under the dual voting system, most members are elected in single-seat districts, while 30% are elected by closed-list proportional representation. Rural areas, where the poorest voters support Maduro and chavismo more strongly for the generous social welfare programs introduced since 1999, are over-represented, as compared to urban areas, where the opposition’s support is strongest. A simply majority will give the opposition less power than a three-fifths majority or a two-thirds majority, with which the MUD could even forced a recall referendum against Maduro. Continue reading No matter who wins, Sunday’s elections will not be chavismo’s last stand→